Obama: The AfPak Strategy, What Nixon & Kissenger Can Teach

If Nixon hadn’t committed political suicide in Watergate, he would have turned a very diplomatic war into a massive win given how the Tet offensive was a disaster for the North Vietnamese.   Yes, the Marxist doctrine on insurgency was superior in its read of American weakness of Washington’s political class.  They also read the social and cognitive impact of the ‘drum beat’ that was Vietnam on the American psyche correctly.

Arthur Herman is a historian turned expert in international relations, I think most of what he advises concerning the Obama administration strategy in the AfPak region is correct.  I think he still wants a seat at the administrative table that is Washington, given that he had not taken an open stand to resist the latest political turn toward our Counterinsurgency tactic in surmounting the lack of political institutions in Afghanistan.  I think a needed review of the limitations of supplanting our counter-insurgency tactics with counter-terrorism is required.

Nevertheless, Dr. Herman offers some very interesting political and tactical advice.

He asks, what can Kissenger and Nixon’s experience in Indochina teach us in our engagement of the restless nomads of Central/South Asia?

“Make every withdrawal deadline conditions based.”  Nixon did this in bombing Laos and Cambodia while pursuing an exit deadline.

“As you shrink your own footprint, grow that of your ally.”  Nixon’s Vietnamization strategy worked until Watergate.  Nevertheless, the largest offensive of the war was the Easter offensive of 1972.  Given air and naval support, a corrupt and ineffective South was able to thwart the North’s offensive.  It was this defeat that led Hanoi to call it quits and sign a peace deal in January of 1973.   This was six months after the last combat soldier left Vietnam.

“Withdrawal must be part of a larger tactic/strategy.”  By only pulling troops out where there were real significant achievements on the ground sent a clear political signal to China and Russia:  “no weakness here.”  This saved our credibility as a Superpower and helped with the opening of China.

Robert McNamara’s books on Vietnam, especially ‘Argument Without End’ is useful in contrasting Herman’s historical and diplomatic approach.  McNamara’s books can bring greater theoretical insight into how Nixon’s moves throughout his ‘Vietnamization’ strategy was viewed by Hanoi.

The truth is that Nixion won by a landslide victory in 1972 because of his Vietnamization tactic.  But it would all be ruined by a soft ego feeding on real and imagined resentments.  Watergate permitted the Communist’s to win in Indochina.

Arthur Herman’s tactical and strategic insights are useful in our engagement throughout South Asia.

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About William Holland

Systematic Theologian/International Relations
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